Fire leaves 5 dead at Wash. refinery
Texas company had been fined for safety issues
ANACORTES, Wash. — The owner of a Washington state oil refinery hit by a deadly blast and fire early yesterday was recently fined for safety violations amid what federal watchdogs call a troubling trend of serious accidents at refineries.
The blast struck the
The blast shook houses and woke people miles away, shooting flames as high as the refinery’s tower before the blaze was extinguished about 90 minutes later.
“We could tell this was horrific, this was huge,’’ said Jan Taylor of La Conner, Wash., who felt the blast rock her motorhome at the RV park across the bay.
Three people died at the scene and two died later.
Two others were hospitalized with major burns over the majority of their bodies. It was the worst fatal refinery accident since a 2005 explosion at a
Six investigators with the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board were dispatched to the scene, and the Washington Department of Labor and Industries launched an investigation.
The agency fined the San Antonio-based company $85,700 last April for 17 serious safety and health violations, defined as those with potential to cause death or serious physical injury.
Inspectors found 150 instances of deficiencies and said the company did not ensure safe work practices and failed to update safety information when changes where made to equipment.
In November, the state reached a settlement with Tesoro, requiring in part that the company correct the hazards and hire a third-party consultant to do a safety audit.
“We don’t know if any of those hazards were involved in the incident that happened,’’ said Hector Castro, spokesman for the state labor department. The company was also fined $6,000 for two serious violations in 2005, and another $6,000 for two serious violations in 2007, Castro said.
Jeff Haffner, associate general counsel for Tesoro, said the third-party audit was completed in the past few weeks, but the consulting firm hired has not issued its report.
Most of the items involved requirements for managing safety, he said. “There’s no way for us to know whether the subject matter of any of those items were related, if at all, to this incident, because we don’t know what caused the incident,’’ Haffner said.
The company is conducting its own investigation into the fire, he said.
The blast occurred in a unit that was in the dangerous process of returning to operation, turning up heat and pressure, said Tesoro spokesman Greg Wright.
“It’s a volatile process,’’ Wright said. “We are diligent about being safe.’’
The state inspections were part of a national effort to examine all petroleum refineries in the United States after the 2005 explosion in Texas.
Of the 18 major accidents the US chemical safety board is currently examining, at least seven are at refineries, said Daniel Horowitz, spokesman for the board.